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Resilience in psychotherapy

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The concept of resilience is as old as time, and it has to do with the capacity of a material, person or ecosystem to return to its initial state (from the Latin “resilio” - “return”).

John Bowlby was the first to speak of resilience in the 1980s, although it was Boris Cyrulnik who popularized the term in his book The ugly ducklings: resilience. An unhappy childhood does not determine life.

In nature, resilience would be the ability of an ecosystem to recover and return to its previous equilibrium after a catastrophe. In serious physics it would be the ability of an object to regain its initial shape despite the blows it may receive and despite the efforts that may be made to deform it.

In psychology, resilience is the ability as human beings to positively adapt to adverse situations. Said vulgarly, it would be the closest thing to "integrity", overcoming something adverse and coming out stronger.

Neuroscience understands that resilient people would have greater emotional balance in stressful situations, with a greater ability to withstand pressure. This provides a greater sense of control in the face of any contingency and a greater ability to face challenges.

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  • Related article: "Resilience: definition and 10 habits to enhance it"

Resilience in psychological therapy

Obviously, we will have to accept the idea that people who come to therapy are either not resilient or not aware that they are. Therefore, on many occasions we will find the opposite case to resilience, with "asylum" people.

Recently, some authors oppose "nomic resilience" o potential capacity of the individual to face adversity, in the face of “silent anomie”, or belief of being incompetent in the face of adversity without being so

How can we make use of this innate ability of our brain in therapy? The first thing that always comes to mind is the figure of the “resilience tutor”, a concept coined by Cyrulnik in 2005 and that would include “those people, instances, groups, a place, event, a work of art that provokes a rebirth of psychological development after the trauma, which for the injured person is the starting point to try to resume or initiate another type of growth; who suffers from suffering, has the possibility of finding in their affective and social context, resilience mentors with whom you can make yourself feel unconditionally loved, grow, and get over it ”.

Can the therapist embody this figure in his clinical practice? Obviously, it will largely depend on your life experience. In my opinion, in most cases, the mere fact of having chosen therapeutic help as a way of life, makes us already somewhat resilient or at least puts us on the path of developing this mechanism in us themselves. That is why, in my humble opinion, every therapist should do deep work on himself.

Personally, I always frame my therapeutic approach in the following phrase of my personal harvest: “the key to living resides in 'giving meaning to your life', and this includes giving meaning to the 'suffering' that is also part of your life ”. Always understanding that understanding and developing a sense of resilience is key to any psychological healing process.

Techniques that help overcome adversity

On Vitalizes We have considered from the beginning if, in addition to and beyond the classic cognitive-behavioral approaches or any other form of psychoeducation, there is the possibility of strengthen the neurobiological level of our brain's ability to respond to adversity.

And the answer is, in our opinion, yes. And specifically, we are talking about emotional regulation through neuromodulation and the development of Mindfulness.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback

Neuromodulation through bio and neurofeedback optimizes the response of our Autonomous and Central Nervous System when responding to the environment.

Biofeedback makes us aware of our autonomous response to stress (respiration, cardiac coherence, temperature, etc.) and allows us to regulate these constants in a functional and adaptive way. And Neurofeedback, a technique that regulates our brain electrical activity through a second-hand operant conditioning system. degree, makes our alert response and our ability to integrate stressful and anxious states is optimized and reinforce.

Both aspects, the capacity to regulate our autonomous responses and the optimization and reinforcement of our response to the environment at the neurobiological level are basic elements, functionally speaking, of our ability to resilience.


Another especially useful tool in this context is Mindfulness or Mindfulness. Indeed, many field studies have shown in line with the contributions of Siegel and Shore, that the practice of Mindfulness stimulates and develops the capacity of our brain at the time from functionally integrate tonsil shots secondary to stressful or traumatic events.

The ability of our brain to digest the anguish produced by any painful, frightening or traumatic event is amplified, allowing a more balanced and functional response to them. Speaking in terms of the EMDR culture, we could say that the "window of tolerance" for anxiety, fear and stress is broadens, with the consequent benefit in terms of emotional balance, a basic aspect as we have said before if we talk about resilience.


To sum up, in Vitaliza the concept of resilience and the figure of the “resilient tutor” are key in our clinical intervention, especially with adults. This therapeutic approach is always accompanied by emotional regulation techniques, more specifically reflected in Neuromodulation (Biofeedback and Neurofeedback) and Midfulness or Mindfulness.

Author: Javier Elcarte, neuropsychologist, trauma expert, founder and director of Vitaliza.
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